Heavenly Mother and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Temple Open House

Payson, Utah Temple

In 2015 I went to the new Payson, Utah Temple open house on a complete whim one day. My husband was deployed to the Middle East and I was alone with three small children and we just hopped in the car and headed to Payson with zero planning or even reserving tickets. I have no explanation for why I did it that way. I just went – and it was during toddler nap time with two feuding older siblings who didn’t want to wear church clothes or put plastic booties on their feet. 

When I arrived they told me not having tickets wasn’t a problem and welcomed me in with the next available group. In between endlessly shushing fights and comforting a grumpy toddler in the church building adjacent the temple (during the pre-temple tour), I caught two significant parts of a movie the sister missionaries played about the temple. First, Elder Holland got emotional reflecting on his love for eternal families and the temple – “Heaven would not be heaven without my wife there, too” he said. (Or something really close to that.) Another part featured President Packer saying, “This is Heavenly Father’s house. We come here to learn of HIM, to communicate with HIM, and to rest in HIS house.” (Again, paraphrasing.) It bothered me. Elder Holland, you can’t imagine being a God without your wife? I can imagine what that would be like. I see it in the temple every time I go. There’s God – a man – without a wife. 

You know what *I* couldn’t imagine? I couldn’t imagine my husband having his own house, where our kids visit HIM, learn about HIS life, and spend time with HIM – all at the complete exclusion of me, his wife. (I had an unkind urge to punch a super cheerful parent I heard lovingly explain to their children on the tour, “This is a sealing room, where we can be sealed with our families so that we can return to Heavenly Father someday!” I WANTED HEAVENLY PARENTS.)

I will admit that I wasn’t at my best or most patient that day. The other people in my tour were walking extra slow and before long I was dying to get the tour over with and leave. It was hot and my pantyhose were falling down. I was carrying a ridiculously heavy toddler for a very long time and my arm was throbbing. My middle child was whining endlessly about the plastic booties on her feet/lying on the floor in everyone’s way and refusing to walk. Well meaning volunteers at the temple were trying to encourage this tired mom (me) by saying things like, “Don’t you just love being in the temple?” and I wanted to say, “Are you looking at me right now? Are we in the same room? Does it look like I love being here right now?!”

At one point in exasperation I gave in to my two older children and said, “It’s fine, sit on the couch in the celestial room”, thinking to myself, “I’ve helped pay for it with three decades of tithing and that’s all the use I’m going to get out of it any time soon”. The volunteers immediately reminded us not to sit on the furniture in the temple and I made my tired kids stand back up, which brought tears of frustration to my eyes. Why was keeping an inanimate piece of furniture pristine more important than helping a very tired woman in the throes of young motherhood? Aren’t couches meant to be sat on? Would Jesus insist I carry two children on my hips so that his favorite imported sofa fabric wouldn’t get wrinkled? My husband was deployed. Where was my military wife discount pass that lets me sit on fancy couches for one minute for free in an un-dedicated temple room? Why had I made the crazy choice to drive the four of us down here today??

In retrospect, I honestly think my intense irritation that day had more to do with an increasing awareness of the utter lack of Heavenly Mother anywhere in our most sacred space than my three grumpy kids. I was feeling the burden of motherhood with a fierceness that day, and my soul longed for some glimpse into the more holy and eternal role I was supposed to be preparing for. But there was nothing in that open house that spoke to that need, and it was even worse when I attended dedicated temples. At least in the open house an apostle mentioned his wife’s existence. But in the tour of “Heavenly Father’s” house itself, there’s nary a wife or mother seen or mentioned anywhere. Is that because He’s got a lot of wives, and they don’t know which one to talk about on the tour? Or are the temples on our planet where God comes alone, to get away from all of his wives and family stress for a little while? Sitting in my church clothes in the pre-tour movie that day, I just couldn’t understand how no one else was bothered by the fact that women are erased in the eternities, including in our holiest houses of worship.

Part of me wishes I had just sat down on that celestial room couch along with my kids and politely declined to stand up when asked. I was very tired from carrying my toddler and they could’ve just dealt with my butt cheeks on the fancy furniture for 60 seconds while I waited for the line through the temple to move again. No sofas would’ve been harmed or testimonies crushed by my actions, and I could’ve really used that little respite to have the strength to journey on to the end of the tour. 

These were my two older kids at the Payson Temple open house that day. I was holding the toddler and this was the best picture I could get of these two (who were completely ignoring me by this point when I told them to look at me). Imagine them punching each other and crying for the full effect.

Recently there’s been yet another crackdown from top church leadership to avoid discussion of Heavenly Mother online and in church meetings, verified by multiple reliable sources and causing a visceral reaction throughout the online LDS community. Stake presidents and stake leaders are receiving training from general authorities and apostles to stop seemingly harmless activities such as capitalizing the words Heavenly Parents (because only Heavenly Father can be capitalized, and it should be “heavenly parents” and “heavenly mother”). We also aren’t supposed to include or credit Her for a role in creation or the Plan of Salvation, refer to or teach about her at church, and as always – no communicating with anyone but Heavenly Father in prayers.

Tweet from Rachel Hunt Steenblik- emeritus Exponent blogger, Heavenly Mother researcher at BYU, and author of bestselling books of Heavenly Mother poetry.

Back in 2015 I was grumpy about not sitting on the temple couch but I complied because it was the rule. In 2022, I’m having a much harder time caring about rules that I think are dumb, no matter how high up in authority the person is who makes them. You know what I think? I think couches are for sitting and motherhood is hard. I also think telling mothers to just stand there no matter how tired they are, yet give them no hope of future rest and eternal glory (in fact, forbidding them from even discussing the possibility) is a really stupid rule…and I don’t think we should follow it anymore. 


    • I’ve heard the hypothesis that it goes against our attempts to become more mainstream Christian. All of our advertising and messaging is becoming so general Christian-looking that I’ll see information about the church online and not be sure if it’s an LDS church or something else.

      Having any worship or prayer directed towards her, or talking about her participating in the creation would make it sound like we worship multiple gods. That makes us unappealing to general Christianity, who worship the Trinity and have one male god, and no female diety.

      That’s one theory, and it makes sense to me based off what we’ve been seeing. We’re trying to fit in and that would make us weird again.

      • In reality to most mainstream Christianity, God is actually genderless and created the genders and calling God “Heavenly Father” was simply a cultural construct to better connect to the creator and of course, given the cultural constructs of ancient times, God would be viewed in the lens of being a man. Then of course Christ came down in human form as a man to reconcile Adam’s transgression (since he ate out of pride and not deception) and to fulfill the Priesthood. People lose their minds on Catholics all the time (LDS included) for honoring (not worshipping) Mary and seeing her as the new spiritual mother of all the living, taking the role of the “new Eve.” God is viewed as creating two genders to embody both sides of his nature and to symbolize his love for the Church in the mainstream. Humanity often puts God who is limitedless in a box. Men, have had power trips for centuries and though not all men are like this, what better way to implement that power trip than through faith practice? I think in reality it has nothing to do with avoiding being mainstream but about power.

  1. In prayer, I was given permission to pray to both Heavenly Mother and Father. In my home prayers (over the food, etc.) I offer my prayer to God, so as not to offend others that are present. It is well past time, in my opinion, that we take our own authority of agency back, and not let men or women tell us what to think, do, say, etc. God (Mother and Father) gave us minds and hearts and souls to use. I have choosen to do that. I listen to others and then I connect with my God and make my own choice and trust that God will gently correct me when I get off base. And my spiritual growth has greatly increased. Blessings to you in your journey.

    • I’m glad you are able to to do all of that. The majority of girls and women in the church will wait until it’s allowed by church leaders though, which may never happen. Boys and men miss out, too. There will always be a few people here and there who make their own rules with personal worship, but nothing will change for the masses until leadership at the top changes something.

      I’m glad you’ve found something the works for you. Go Linda! I hope you rub off on more people. 🙂

  2. I feel this down to my tired Mom bones. Where is our rest? Where is our eternal prototype? And why, in the truest of true churches, are we still erasing women?

    • And why did it take me so long to notice it, I always wonder. I grew up in the church and spent over a decade of my adulthood fully engaged before someone else pointed out the lack of women in the eternities and I finally noticed it. And like everyone says, once you see it you can never unsee it again. The invisibility of women is everywhere, from primary songs to quotes in general conference to the temple.

  3. You may or may not be aware that there is sentiment among the less-orthodox to discard the concept of Heavenly Mother entirely because it is heteronormative. Surely it is not the intent of Church leaders to give that sentiment oxygen, but by denying oxygen to Heavenly Mother, that might turn out to be the effect.

    • Yeah, don’t tell me that marriage between a man and woman is of such eternal importance that we’re willing to make queer people live an entire lifetime alone rather defile the institution with a mere mortal relationship that doesn’t exactly parallel eternal marriage…. but then go to the temple and show me that a couple men (Michael and Elohim) can create human life with no need of a woman whatsoever. It makes no sense.

      I’m fine with a doctrine that says our earth has only men at the head… but tell me about the other universes where women like me get to have a say. If earth has a single dad, okay… but where are the places where an exalted woman can end up? I don’t need my Godhead to be a nuclear family, but I do need to know where women end up eventually!

  4. I have long thought that the reason church leaders don’t want members talking about Heavenly Mother is because they’ll have to admit that they believe in eternal polygamy and there is (in Mormon doctrine) several Heavenly Mothers.

    • I was taught in seminary that there was one Heavenly mother for each of the races – the Asian mother, the Hispanic mother, the Caucasian mother, etc… and that’s why we have different races. We look like our moms.

      This sounds utterly absurd to me now, but made perfect sense in the moment.

  5. “…I just couldn’t understand how no one else was bothered by the fact that women are erased in the eternities, including in our holiest houses of worship.”

    That’s one of the biggest, deep-rooted, confusing, scary, doctrinal issues for me. Where are the women in the eternities? If you can give me one—1!—canonized example of a celestialized woman, I’ll be very impressed. We read about Michael (Adam) but what happened to Eve? We read about the angel Moroni, John the Baptist, Peter, James John, but where are the righteous women who have died?

    Where is the feminine divine? What am I supposed to be doing in the eternities? What’s my role in the partnership? Do I make children and then not get to even talk to them while they worship and talk to my partner and build temples for him so he can walk among them? The extent of my inclusion is that my existence is an appendix B chapter 5 doctrine and I’m not needed for any worship rituals or saving ordinances? Maybe I even get to be just one of many women in my partnership?

    I call bull****.

    • Women were erased from scripture and the eternities LONG before the LDS church. Millennia before, actually. The monotheistic religions worked very hard and quite violently to erase the worldwide presence and reverence of a female deity who created the universe…. The Chalice and the Blade, When God Was A Woman, The Alphabet Versus the Goddess, and The Return of the Divine Sophia are informative reads around this. I’m just Mormon enough still to believe in the restoration of all things, which absolutely includes the Divine Feminine and all that has been lost about Her.

  6. Loved everything about this! You are so right about the church’s (oh was I supposed to capitalize that?) hypocritical ideas, policies, and actions about a Heavenly Mother and how they (the church) treat women or don’t treat them. The “Butt Cheek and the Couch” remark and the picture of those precious kids was priceless! I love how you use humor to express your yourself.

  7. Just to clarify something—as I have read the notes of people in these meetings and talked with a few sources, it seems they are ONLY worried about capitalizing Heavenly Parents. Heavenly Mother IS capitalized in the church essay.

  8. Hi lady.

    Speaking as someone who had all the same issues, the same deep, lasting hurt that was perpetuated by men. Men who touted that we needed to help the oppressed, to lift up those who were hurting, to cry with those in mourning. It’s very heartbreaking to come to grips with reality. And in reality, in the church circa 2022, women are still fighting the good fight to be seen and heard. Anytime we are too vocal that we are hurting because we lack insight into our eternal roles, and deeply yearn for female comfort from HM, we are shut down.

    This is a God who is still, in 2022, unable to help women feel self-worth, and to be given all the revelation they need to really dream and build a reliable view of the eternities so that they know what they are reaching for.

    It is okay to seek self worth inside yourself, to build a space with other women to heal all this hurt, and to really acknowledge that everything you’ve written, and experienced, is valid. There are too many women who have said the same things, and have been ousted from the church for doing so. Why has God not protected them?

    I was jumping through the loops, trying to figure out this massive puzzle myself. It came crashing down, also in the temple, and ended in a long panic attack. God assigning concubines to men in the afterlife (DC132) was what did me in. I was no better than a concubine thousands of years ago, and she would be getting no better than a sex slave? And “God” approved? It feels so hard to come to terms with all of it, because realizing how the church truly feels about women, and dismisses our feelings so flippantly, and boldly, decimates us.

    If I may: the three things that actually have brought lasting healing and peace for me, in order:
    1. Leave the church.
    2. Create a Red Tent of 7-10 women who gather bimonthly to hold space for each other, to heal their relationships with women, and to find *real* support and validation.
    3. Deep dive into your feelings. Validate yourself. Re-parent yourself. Love yourself and believe you are worthy of more happiness and love and support (from within especially!) than you have been given.

    It’s possible to heal and move on. You deserve more.

    With love from a fellow [apostate] sister. I hope you find peace.

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